Well it’s been quite the week on Twitter and as I write this, it’s still only Wednesday.
On Saturday night I was just about to go to bed when JK Rowling posted a tweet which turned into a series of tweets and Twitter exploded. I doubt there is a tweeter in existence who hasn’t seen the tweets so I won’t post but they related to her views on sex and gender.
I posted what I thought to be a self-evident truth
The response to me was no less fulsome and abusive.
For several days since my asking not to send hate to JK Rowling, I’ve received non-stop hate, and accusations of being transphobic, from the same people who previously had praised me for my trans ally ship.
My crime is that I asked people not to send JK Rowling hate. I suspect my real crime is in not responding well to the notion that targeted hate is “ok” on the grounds of conflicting opinion and my resistance to the instruction of “because I say so”.
I’m completely over and exhausted by, political and issues- based tribalism. I used to think it was ok. I was wrong.
This is deployed by extremists on both sides of the Terf war.
The backlash was swift and absolute with the accusations of transphobia which have been levelled at JK Rowling for a while now, appearing thick and fast.
Quite rightly the narrative runs that Transphobia can only be determined by trans people. I want to underline that point and add that misogyny which fuelled the vast majority of the responses to Rowling, should equally, only be determined by women.
So, what constitutes being a woman. Well that is the problem.
The mantra that “Trans women are women and trans men are men” is a relatively recent phenomenon.
I’m as untroubled by that phrase as I am by the term cis woman. I believe that the term TERF is nothing more than an acronym. However, in trying to understand all sides in this, I recognise that many women feel that the term is a slur, and mindful of that, now I don’t use it. I don’t use the term TRA’s for the same reason.
Ultimately if that’s what trans people need, for me to adopt more inclusive language then I’ll support them in that need but the idea that it also requires me to discount scientific fact to the contrary, is troubling to me. If this isn’t the case then we need to have a conversation about that because that is definitely the impression that I’m getting online.
The issue of women’s sport is hugely important yet hotly contested as an issue worth discussing. The biology of skeletal strength/bone density and muscle mass, potentially or actually, providing an advantage to the trans women competing, is a subject worth discussing.
But discussing it, I’m told, is transphobic.
Few people deny that sex and gender are different yet to say that now, is seemingly deemed transphobic. To see Debbie Hayton a trans woman accused of hating trans people is an odd sight because when Debbie says or indeed wears a T shirt which states “I’m not a woman, I’m a man”, she is simultaneously the expert on her own identity, which is pro trans rights (applause) and “propagating hate speech against the trans community” (……..wait …what?)
When I asked Twitter why “A Woman’s Place” had been deemed a hate group by The Labour Party, the explanations were soon transplanted by angry trans allies and trans people. I explained that my being autistic means asking questions and seeking evidence, which led to a rapid descent into accusations of transphobia and one trans woman memorably telling me “Fuck your autism” … so that was nice.
This same allegation of transphobia has been levelled at trans women Blair White and Natalie Wynn because the theory goes, determination of transphobia must be framed by trans people, just not those trans people.
Seeing trans people targeted with hate and harassment online is horrific and is rightly dealt with swiftly and permanently.
It’s also indisputable that misogyny is rife online and as soon as one perceived hatred is displayed, an irrefutable hatred is deployed.
Rowling received death threats, rape threats, accusations too litigious to repeat and all of the usual tactics of misogyny that women have seen used against them for millennia. Misogyny is often, though not exclusively, deployed by non-trans allies.
Many times, I’ve complimented a woman online, only to have a self-identified trans ally slide into my mentions and say “Umm… you do know she’s a terf right? I mean are you ok with that, I thought you were an ally…..”
I’m more than happy to have transphobia detailed and explained to me by trans people, I’m less keen to have non-trans allies’ brand virtually every women in public life as transphobic based on nothing more than generalised assent. Even when apologies have been offered for previous transgressions, the branding of transphobe is permanent.
In my case the first time I was accused of being transphobic was when I said I thought Suzanne Moore was funny in a comment she made about feminism. Who I follow identifies me on an app as transphobic or not transphobic. I got a direct message from an activist saying that I was, rightly in their opinion, registering green on the app, as trans ally.
Trans ally twitter this week was looking into “making sure that got changed” because I defended JK Rowling against misogynistic hate……. Oh, ok then….
Listening to opposing views was how I was raised to be able to make informed decisions. Staying in a silo of like minds, to me just makes bullying more acceptable. Standing up to bullying may mark me out for targeted abuse but it doesn’t make bullying right.
Asking questions or doubting narratives by angry and abusive people on both sides of this debate leads the extremes of both sides to decry me in turn as “transing vulnerable people” guilty of being a “misogynist lesbophobe” or latterly a “transphobe”.
None of which is true.
I was raised by a mother who believed in understanding and valuing all human life, in the difference between cross dressing men (formerly known as a word I don’t think I can use as I think it’s offensive ; well I don’t think it, I’ve been told it kindly, because I asked a question because I’m autistic but this is just unravelling now…) and trans women and in the importance of understanding gay rights, racism, sexism and the absolute truth of the Holocaust.
My father on the other hand who left (whilst my brother Michael was dying when he was 17 and I was 12) believed his rage and violence were a justifiable form of communication and that some people shouldn’t be afforded the same rights as he had, particularly women.
He liked intelligent women as long as they were pretty and quiet about their intellect, he just didn’t like women being openly intelligent by contradicting him; criticising him; not laughing at his jokes; making better jokes than his; being afraid of his rage; being nearby when he accidentally smashed his own brand new glasses; or practicing ballet as a child when I should have been tidying my room.
I can’t tell you what a shock it is as a ten-year-old to finish an attempt at pirouette then be slapped very hard across the face by a man of 6’ 3”. When that man is your dad the shock becomes expected fear of doing pretty much anything, of walking on eggshells constantly, in case it turns out to be the wrong thing.
The screams of my mother when they’d argued, and he’d hit over and over again have melted in my mind with the barking of our dog who tried to defend her and the screeching tyres as he drove away in a raging temper. I learnt about how male aggression relies upon female silence as a child and how as a family we knew without discussing it, how to keep that silence. That’s when I discovered that not being poor, is no protection against male violence and that living in a detached house with a big garden and double glazing, helps to keep the screams away from the neighbours’ ears.
I often think about my brother saying that he loved our father but that he had no respect for him as a man. He knew that he wasn’t being taught how to be a man, he’d been taught from birth, how not to be. If I told you how my father, even after he’d left us, treated my mother after my brother was diagnosed with a terminal heart condition, you’d understand the true nature of emotional abuse. If I told you how my father treated my mother after my brother died, you’d understand the true nature of coercive control and cruelty. If I could play you the answer phone message he left for me a few days after my mother died, you’d understand how women from one generation in the orbit of a misogynist, are supplanted by women from the next generation, even when they cease all contact.
JK Rowling’s abusers targeted her sex; the threats were sex specific as was the abuse. This isn’t a call to stop criticism, it’s highlighting that hatred now stands as an acceptable way to contradict opposing argument.
Seeing prominent people traduce the issue of human rights into targeted gendered ageism, was depressing and so routine now.
Women are targeted with ageism every day for the very thing they too can’t help but are routinely blamed for, getting older whilst being a woman.
It’s very tricky for me to abide by the principle that trans people must decide what transphobia is when trans people don’t agree on that themselves. Women & girls don’t agree what constitutes feminism either, but I doubt we’d see a hate mob of tens of thousands of hate filled tweets targeting a prominent writer who said that. Or maybe we would. It’s absolutely wild online these days.
We must all keep trying to learn and understand about trans rights, history and bigotry as we must also learn about the damage that systemic misogyny does to the lives and life chances of women and girls. But I realise that with the latter groups there is a rather less hopeful prospect of a good outcome.
When you view the Rowling twitterstorm through the paradigm of science, then of course the term “people’ having periods is something she can highlight. When you view the Rowling twitterstorm through the paradigm of misogyny then you see a woman facing the same historical narrative as women being branded witches & burnt alive for being middle aged midwives. Biology never works in a woman’s favour.
Whilst not an issue for me, my understanding is that Rowling’s comment is not intended to be an exclusion of non-binary people and trans men, it’s rather more a case of including women and girls in the narrative of our lives, as woman and girls are still suffering misogynistic hate crimes and abuse all over the world.
If we can’t name it, we can’t address it and if we can’t address it, we will never change it.
People suffer and die from domestic violence every day, but women and girls are targeted the most and are targeted the most by men, as are trans women.
The problem is this level of hate falls to the single most important weapon of misogyny there is, silencing a woman for stating her opinion, even when her opinion is the truth as science and biology currently stands.
As difficult as it is to see and hear it, I believe that whilst gender is a spectrum, science & biology still tells us that sex is immutable. When the scientific facts change so will my opinion.
Naturally Rowling had high profile critics in abundance ready to accuse her too, many of them are women who talk often about the horrors of misogyny and the importance of feminism. But most importantly and as unexpected as a fully formed Patronus from a 15-year-old schoolboy, Daniel Radcliffe arrived and apologised to the world on JK Rowling’s behalf.
It reminded me of the words of another writer, Virginia Woolf:
“A woman knows very well that, though a wit sends her his poems, praises her judgment, solicits her criticism and drinks her tea, this by no means signifies that he respects her opinions, admires her understanding, or will refuse, though the rapier is denied him, to run through the body with his pen.”
Daniel Radcliffe is a patron of a charity which highlights the suicide of trans and non-binary youth and as he explained, it’s his role that compelled him to speak out. I read the article and followed the link included in The Trevor Project blog and this is where the clarity of his assertion of JK Rowling’s transgression became less clear. In the link it stated that sex and gender are different.
This is no more or less than Rowling had stated. Despite the hate, despite the thousands of abusive tweets, despite Radcliffe explaining to people that it was still ok to like Harry Potter (a huge relief I’m sure, to his agent) He neglected to mention the problem of the tsunami of misogynistic abuse his friend had been receiving. Feminists everywhere felt the bump of the bus rolling over yet another woman, failed by a man.
A woman, to whom he owes his platform and career. Mentioning it and doing it anyway, isn’t ameliorating the fact of it.
And so, internet hate claimed another brother for his own.
I loathe bullying. I always have. A mob attacking one woman is bullying.
A mob attacking one woman stating a fact which has yet to be disproved is silencing.
A mob sending death threats and rape threats and justifying that with a mantra of “she asked for it, she deserves it” is horrifying.
And a mob attacking anyone for saying “please don’t send hate”, shames us all.
Since I wrote this on Wednesday I’ve hesitated to post it, contemplating whether writing it, is worth the hate I’ll get for posting it. As someone who often writes about contentious issues, this is a first for me.
JK Rowling has addressed her views on the Terf War in an essay of the same name.
In it she explained both her views and for the first time she details that she is a survivor of both sexual assault and domestic violence.
As I said on Twitter, JK Rowling has no need to do this.
She’s a world renowned writer of considerable wealth (and no that doesn’t “justify” sending her hate) She isn’t an aspiring reality TV star with a fledgling career who needs to issue an apology video on YouTube, worded carefully by the PR team from the TV company insisting she do so; or “she’ll never work in this town again”.
JK Rowling, I believe, wrote her essay because she doesn’t want any trans or non-binary person to believe she hates them, or is hurt by what she’s written on Twitter.
I don’t think Transphobes do that. Transphobes don’t care what trans or non-binary people think of them. Transphobes couldn’t give a damn.
Her essay detailed a startling and very concerning statistic which, unsurprisingly to me as an autistic woman, no one seems to be talking about. JK Rowling writes that there has been a 4400% increase in autistic girls being diagnosed with gender dysphoria.
I have many concerns about this and many questions. A closer look at this issue highlighted that in some circles of trans activism, it is seemingly said that transitioning makes the signs and symptoms of autism “disappear”.
I’d like to be completely clear. The signs and symptoms of autism never disappear, and autism isn’t a symptom of gender dysphoria. There is no “cure for autism” and there doesn’t need to be.
Autism isn’t an illness, either mental or physical. Some autistic people don’t even see it as a disability. I do, many autistic people don’t. Imagine a community having different views, how novel.
However autistic people identify and describe their autism, one fact remains clear, disability is protected under the laws of discrimination in the UK and so are disabled people.
The charity Mermaids wrote a response to JK Rowling and unlike many public figures and Harry Potter stars, they detailed the hate on the grounds of gender, that JK Rowling has been targeted with including the sexual assault and domestic violence that she’s survived.
Women are called survivors of domestic violence for a reason. 3 women a week in the UK are murdered by a current or former male partner. As a survivor of childhood domestic violence, myself, I can tell you that the scars of that trauma both mental and physical never leave you.
Mermaids didn’t refer to the autism statistic, in their open letter but were clear with me in their tweet reply when I asked them about a talk given by American Trans man, social worker and activist Aydin Olson Kennedy at Mermaids EPATH 2019 conference where this slide was shown.
Mermaids said “There is a higher incidence of autism alongside gender dysphoria than within the general population, but there is no question that they are distinct.”
This exponential rise in autistic girls presenting with gender dysphoria must be addressed and conversations about it must be had. We must look closely at when ASD is diagnosed, whether it’s a diagnosis distinct of a gender dysphoria diagnosis, or as part of it. Because autism has nothing to do with gender dysphoria at all. The conflation of the two by anyone, is I fear, going to impact heavily on the understanding of autism and by extension the much needed adaptations required for learning and for life. Especially on the UK clinical community’s understanding of the uniqueness of female presentations of ASD.
Women and girls have suffered historically and actually from under diagnosis and misdiagnosis of autism. Diagnosis is key at any age, whether you believe in labels or not but for girls and women already living life on the outside looking in and hating ourselves already, it’s everything.
As I’ve said for many years, autism is a feminist issue.
JK Rowling, I feel, is doing one thing above all others. She is highlighting that whether it is popular, fashionable or easy, the conversation around the damaging notion that there is a league table of rights, needs to happen now.
All humans fighting for rights have equal value in that fight and we seem to have forgotten that as quickly as the internet wants to forget that JK Rowling wrote a series of children’s books that told the world that love and friendship, are the best weapons against hatred we will ever have.
That’s just a fact.